This service was originally planned in 2016 for the first-ever Ash Wednesday service at CrossPoint Christian Reformed Church of Brampton, Ontario. I planned it with Scott Post—then CrossPoint’s youth pastor—and a young member of the congregation. In 2019 I amended and adapted the original service for our context at Immanuel Christian Reformed Church in Brampton, a congregation that hadn’t observed Ash Wednesday for many years. Wednesdays are youth nights at Immanuel, so we needed to “share” the gym space, and the service became a collaborative effort with the youth and Immanuel’s leadership team. The youth pastor and I worked to make sure the service was interactive and included concrete action and some physical movement. We were pleasantly surprised by the turnout and the participation! This was a simple service: no sermon, only piano accompaniment, and lots of reflection and prayer time. It was a beautiful, intergenerational time of worship with which to begin Lent.
In order for this service to happen with as little announcement as possible, you may want to provide a printed bulletin with the directions and suggestions for the congregants written out. We also suggest leaving some blank space in the bulletin for journaling or drawing.
- a cross at the front of the room
- a piece of sackcloth for every attendee
- blank space in the bulletin or blank paper to journal or draw
- small bowls with ashes for imposition
- a small piece of wrapped chocolate for every attendee
Please take a piece of sackcloth as you enter the worship space in silence.
Song: “Be Still, for the Presence” Evans, LUYH 532 (v. 1)
A Time of Silent Reflection
During this time, take a moment to breathe and to reflect on where you’ve come from. Consider one or two of these prompts as you reflect:
- Talk to the Lord about the kind of day you’ve had. Describe it to him.
- Talk to the Lord about how you are feeling right now.
- Ask the Lord to speak to you this evening.
- Ask the Lord to reveal more of himself to you.
- You are welcome to journal in this booklet what you hear the Lord saying to you.
Be patient and wait for the Lord. Don’t rush to fill silence.
Feel free to journal or draw your responses. There are blank pages at the end of the booklet for this purpose.
Song: “Be Still, for the Presence” Evans, LUYH 532 (v. 3)
Welcome, Introduction, and Prayer
Hymn: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” Watts, LUYH 175, GtG 223, PsH 384 (vs. 1–3)
Read Prayer: Psalm 51
All: Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Scripture Reading: James 4:1–10
[You may want to use The Message for all the Scripture readings. Sometimes hearing a familiar text in more colloquial language is helpful.]
A Time of Silent Reflection: Get Serious!
Consider the sackcloth. Feel the rough fabric against your skin. Throughout the Bible, sackcloth was made from coarse goat hair, which was itchy and uncomfortable to wear. People would wear clothing made of sackcloth when they were really sad and upset about their sins. Talk to the Lord and ask God to help you see clearly your own sins. Feel free to use the back pages of this booklet to journal or to draw.
- Which sins in your life make you feel sad, uncomfortable, or upset?
- Which sins in your life are you comfortable with? Which sins are you dabbling in?
- How does your sin impact your life? How does it impact those around you?
- How might you “yell a loud ‘No!’ to the devil”?
- If you had a humble spirit, what would that look like?
- What is God saying to you?
During this song, you are invited to place your piece of sackcloth at the foot of the cross as a sign of your desire to leave your sins.
Song: “Lord, I Need You” Nockels, Carson, et al.
Prayer of Forgiveness and Hope
Scripture Reading: Romans 6:1–14
Invitation: When Death Becomes Life
During the songs, you are invited to come forward and receive the mark of the cross in ashes on your forehead as a reminder of your new life in Jesus Christ. After receiving the mark of the cross, please pick up a piece of chocolate up from one of the baskets—but don’t eat it!
Imposition of Ashes
[The following may be spoken to each individual who comes forward during the imposition of ashes.]
Count yourselves dead to sin
but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
“I Stand Amazed” Gabriel, Tomlin
“Create in Me a Clean Heart” Bannister
Scripture Reading: Romans 12:1–21
A Time of Silent Reflection: Place Your Life Before God
Take a moment to consider the gift of the chocolate. What are some of the sweet gifts and talents the Lord has placed in your life? Talk with the Lord and ask him how he is calling you to love God and others during this Lenten season. Feel free to use this booklet to journal or to draw.
- Is there something God is calling you to give up for Lent?
- Is there something you should add to your life to bring you closer to Jesus?
- Is there something he wants you to give to him, or maybe to someone else?
- Is there some way he wants you to serve him, or maybe to serve someone else?
- How will you do this? Write down your plan and share it with an accountability partner.
Prayer: “God of All Seasons” The Worship Sourcebook J.4.4.7
Invitation to Pray
During the song, you are invited to pray at the foot of the cross as a symbol of your offering to the Lord, or to find one of the prayer leaders and ask them to pray with you. You may also remain in your seats and pray there, bringing your plans and commitments to God. You may also bring your chocolate back to the cross as a symbol of your surrendering your life to God.
Song: “I Surrender” Crocker
The Lord’s Blessing: 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24
Song: “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” Watts, LUYH 175, GtG 223, PsH 384 (v. 4)